The T420 is one of Lenovo's first Sandy Bridge–based laptops, sporting a 2nd Generation Core i5-2520 CPU. It still looks like an old and faithful Lenovo though, and it has all the good features we've grown to love over the years: The matte screen, the screen-mounted keyboard light, the dual pointing devices, the comfortable keyboard and the solid build quality. It's the type of laptop any business user, programmer or Web developer would love to own.
Design, build quality and user comfort
It's one of the few laptops on the market to have a 14in screen, which we think hits the sweet spot nicely between user comfort and portability. Indeed, the T420 is a joy to use. This is not only because there is a large area on which to rest your palms while you type, it also has a very soft keyboard, which has keys that are easy to press and which are responsive. They make a dull thud when you hit them hard, but thankfully you don't have to hit them hard in order for them to leave their mark. You don't have to worry about the noise the keyboard makes when making VoIP calls, as the T420 boasts keyboard noise suppression technology. This can be enabled in the ThinkVantage Communications Utility and it worked reasonably well in our tests, although some hits were audible.
The design of the laptop's chassis is similar to what we've seen before in the Lenovo ThinkPad T Series (for example, the 15.6in ThinkPad T510) and from what we've experienced, Mac users hate it! You get a matte black chassis, metal hinges, squarish edges, and subtle status lights. It feels very well built and it doesn't make any unnecessary creaks or squeaks when you handle it.
There are speakers either side of the keyboard and volume buttons above it and the chassis is packed with features both modern and old: USB 2.0 (three ports), eSATA (it doubles as a USB 2.0 port), VGA, a combination headphone and microphone port, Gigabit Ethernet, and DisplayPort. It also has an ExpressCard/34 slot and an SD card slot, but it's missing USB 3.0 ports. You also get a webcam, Bluetooth and dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi that supports Wi-Di. A docking port is located underneath the laptop and a fingerprint reader is located out of the way on the right side of the palmrest.
There is a built-in DVD burner on the right side of the chassis. We do have a quibble with the DVD burner though; its eject button is too easy to press and we often found ourselves with an open tray after handling the right side of the laptop.
It's a reasonably cool and quiet business laptop and you can use it on your lap for a prolonged period of time without feeling too much warmth. However, you'll have to make sure that the vent on the left side doesn't get blocked. The fan near the vent spun consistently even while typing this review, but it didn't get annoyingly loud. The touchpad has little bumps on it that you get used to after a while, but when you first start using the notebook, they can be annoying.
You do have options when it comes to navigation though: You can either use the touchpad or the TrackPoint device, and you can disable the one that you don't want to use. We use both depending on where the laptop is situated. For example, the TrackPoint comes in handy when using the notebook on you lap. It's worth noting that some people who used the T420 found that the TrackPoint got in the way while touchtyping.
Like most ThinkPad business laptops, the T420 ships with ThinkVantage Tools, which allow you to manage almost every aspect of the laptop, from the power settings to the driver updates and backups. These tools can be accessed by hitting the blue ThinkVantage button above the keyboard.
The matte screen has a native resolution of 1366x768 and it isn't prone to reflections, which is perfect for office environments. It isn't great, but it has adequate brightness and contrast levels and it's easy on the eyes when it comes to creating documents and viewing photographs. However, its vertical viewing angles could be better.
Specifications, performance and battery life
On the inside, the Thinkpad T420 features the afore-mentioned Intel Core i5-2520 CPU, which is a dual-core CPU with Hyper-Threading that has a standard frequency of 2.5GHz, and it's surrounded by 4GB of DDR3 SDRAM and a 320GB, 7200rpm hard drive. There isn't a separate graphics card installed; instead, the ThinkPad T420 makes good use of the integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics in the CPU. This integrated graphics chip has adequate power for running office applications and displaying high-resolution photos. It's even good enough to run a few games, as long as you don't turn up the resolution and graphics detail.
In our Blender 3D rendering and iTunes MP3 encoding tests, the T420 recorded 40sec and 49sec, respectively, which is slightly better than what the Sony VAIO SB Series managed in the same test (both units use the same CPU). In 3DMark06, the integrated Sandy Bridge graphics returned a mark of 3492, which is an improvement on integrated Intel graphics of the past and it means that the T420 will be fine for processing videos and high-resolution photos. You can even play a few games in your downtime. The notebook's hard drive transfer rate of 39.25 megabytes per second is also a good showing.
In our battery test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video, the ThinkPad's 6-cell, 57 Watt-hour battery lasted 3hr 30min. This is a very good result for a 14in laptop and it's even better than the 3hr 19min achieved by the 13.3in Sony VAIO SB. You can get even more life out of it if you manage the power options properly through ThinkVantage. If you want the longest possible battery life, then you can consider getting an additional 9-cell battery slice that can be added to the bottom of the laptop.
There's definitely a lot to the ThinkPad T420 — it's a well-rounded and well-built laptop. It supplied good speed in our tests and we found it to be very comfortable to use, although some people didn't like the placement of the TrackPoint device. We think it's a good model for anyone who wants a serious computer with which to do serious work.
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